There is, by and large, a misunderstanding about blessings – at least as they exist within Judaism – among people who keep religion at arms-length. Blessings are not a magic spell. They aren’t a way of imbuing a thing with some sort of power, or status it didn’t have before; nor are they an expression of power or elevated status on the part of the bless-er. Blessings do not call down God’s grace to manifest in some way. Blessings do not summon God to aver the righteousness of the person or object.
If you think of blessings this way, you are, in the words of a wise man, focusing on the finger, rather than the moon.
“Its like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”Bruce Lee, “Enter the Dragon”
Blessings are not about the bless-er, or the object being blessed, or the name in which it was blessed. Those are all the finger pointing to the moon. The moon itself, in Jewish thought, is the moment.
- Thank you, God, for this moment, when I can enjoy this food
- Thank you, God, for this moment of the day, when I can proclaim your glory
- Thank you, God, for this moment when I get to experience this part of the world You have created
During Elul, our blessing is, essentially, “Thank you God, for this moment of the year, when I have time set aside to reflect on my experiences and behavior of the past, and to plot a way forward where I hope to do better, to be better.”
But despite what I said earlier, blessings have a transformative effect. In being part of a moment we elevated from the mundane to the divine, the object is also elevated. We can’t treat it as a normal apple, or book, or what-have-you. In being the vehicle by which I was able to bless, to thank God for this moment, it has absorbed some of the holiness of that act.
In that same way, so am I elevated.
In Judaism, there are blessings for almost every moment and experience – from waking up to eating food to going to the bathroom – because there are blessings to be found in every moment if only we choose to open ourselves to them. That’s not to say we MUST spend every waking second in blessings, but that those opportunities are there for the taking.